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Understanding why teens and tweens sext

Understanding why teens and tweens sext or swap explicit photos is important to helping them understand why it's a dangerous behavior.

Understanding why teens and tweens sext or swap explicit photos is important to helping them understand why it's a dangerous behavior.

Experts say parents should have a conversation with their children even before they get a cell phone or are exposed to social media.

"Research would suggest that both boys and girls do sext," said Dr. Selby Conrad, a child psychologist and researcher at Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center.

More girls than boys, Conrad said.

So why do adolescents sext?

"Research is emerging on it, but what we're seeing is that there's a curiosity, a desire to connect," said Conrad.

This is nothing new. Kids have always been curious -- wanting to connect, date and sort of explore their sexuality, said Conrad.

Technology is making that easier, and more dangerous.

"Having the pictures out in the world sets kids up for bullying and violation of privacy," Conrad said.

So why do it?

"I think that kids oftentimes send pictures believing they are going to be held private," said Conrad. "They trust other kids; that's developmental for adolescents as well as learning how to trust, and they don't realize that this leaves a permanent record.”

Parents have that talk and don't say, "don't."

"What we know about saying 'don't' to kids is that's usually all they hear, then they turn off," Conrad said.

Engage your kids. Let them know your values. Conrad said parents can even share with them news stories, depending on their age, about sexting gone viral and its implications.

And if your child is a victim?

"Try to have a non-judgmental conversation with them about how they're thinking, how they're feeling, what's going on for them, and any next steps that they may need to take in order to connect with care or provide extra support," Conrad said.

The bottom line is that communication with children -- not preaching -- goes a long way in helping to ensure their social safety.

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